Need a Windows 7 Upgrade? Here's a Step-By-Step Guide

Make sure you don't miss anything before making the jump

If you prefer to stick with the technology that you know, you may want to upgrade from an outdated version of Windows, such as Windows XP or Windows Vista, to a less outdated version of Windows, such as Windows 7.

As of January 2020, Microsoft is no longer supporting Windows 7. We recommend upgrading to Windows 10 to continue receiving security updates and technical support. This article remains available for archival purposes.

Before diving headfirst into an upgrade, XP users need to be aware that they can't do an "in-place" upgrade to Windows 7; that is, they can't leave XP on their machine and install Windows 7 over it, as Vista users can. Upgrading for XP users means eradicating the old operating system and installing a fresh copy of Windows 7.

Steps for Upgrading to Windows 7

Here's what you'll need to do to upgrade from Windows XP or Windows Vista to Windows 7:

  • Use the Upgrade Advisor: Microsoft's free Upgrade Advisor is an essential tool to download and install before upgrading to Windows 7. The Upgrade Advisor tells you which steps you need to take before upgrading, including whether your computer meets the hardware specs necessary for Windows 7 (for example, processors, and memory and graphics cards), what new drivers you'll need, and if you have programs that aren't compatible.

Before running the Upgrade Advisor, plug in any peripherals such as printers, USB drives, and MP3 players. Attaching these devices enables the Upgrade Advisor to scan them and see if they'll work with Windows 7, and let you know if you'll need updated drivers.

  • Back up your hard drive: This is the most important step you can take. Upgrades, although typically successful, are no sure thing. It is essential that you back up your documents, pictures, videos—anything that you don't want to lose—to an external hard drive, thumb drive, USB drive, or an online backup service.
  • Get a DVD rather than a downloaded copy: You'll definitely want a full DVD copy of Windows 7 rather than downloading a copy from the internet and using that downloaded copy to upgrade. If your upgrade goes wrong, or if you need to reinstall the OS for some reason, you'll be out of luck unless you have the DVD.
  • Don't use a pirated copy: The money you save by using an illegal, free copy will not be worth the expense in the end. Pirated copies are not eligible for upgrades, fixes, and patches, so when something goes wrong with your pirated copy of Windows 7, you won't be able to get any help from Microsoft.
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